The complainant, Mike Fegelman, representing HonestReporting Canada, wanted to know the details and verification of the statement that a Palestinian woman was shot and injured by an Israeli sniper almost 30 years ago. The reference was a quick one in the context of a piece about an art installation featuring an Israeli and a Palestinian family. The attribution to the information is clear; there was no violation of policy.
You are the Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada and on behalf of the organization you filed a complaint about an As It Happens interview which aired on September 25, 2018. The segment featured an interview with Israeli artist Daniel Landau who had created a virtual reality installation at the Israel Museum which gave participants access to a Palestinian and an Israeli home. The artist recounted some stories and provided information about each of the families who participated in his project - the Israeli Avidan family and the Palestinian Sebteens. You objected to the inclusion of some statements about the Sebteen family because you said they were unsubstantiated and may have been “outright falsehoods,” or an incomplete picture of what happened.
In telling the story of the Palestinian family, Mr. Landau explained that Raji Sebteen was a former militant who had disavowed violence and whose sister had been paralyzed by an Israeli sniper. It was this account you challenged. You wanted to know if CBC could “substantiate the claim” and asked for further context about the “alleged incident.” In the absence of proper sources to back up this claim, you thought it had to be removed and corrected.
Lynda Shorten, Director of Network Talk for CBC Radio, replied to your complaint. She told you that the Palestinian who participated in the virtual reality project, Raji Sebteen, spoke to an As It Happens producer through an interpreter. He explained the incident took place in 1989 when his sister and her husband were driving in an area where Palestinians were throwing stones. The vehicle was stopped by an Israeli soldier who wanted to commandeer the vehicle, and when the couple said no and drove off a soldier shot Ms. Sebteen in the back, leading to her paralysis. The programmers then took this information to the IDF who said it would be difficult to comment because the incident happened so long ago and that more detail would be required.
Based on the artist’s research and their own checking she felt the information was appropriately included in the interview and in the website article:
As you know, As It Happens turns to people whose experiences are central to the story being told, as we did in this instance. We remain true to our journalistic principles, including accuracy, by taking all reasonable steps to verify the facts in the stories we broadcast. And we have done so in this instance. There is nothing to suggest that the experience of this family as recounted to us, to the artist making the virtual reality documentary, or to the public who have seen this virtual reality documentary is untrue. And we have taken all reasonable steps to verify it.
The mention of the shooting and subsequent paralysis of one of the family members featured in this artwork is a passing reference. The artist, who researched and interviewed them, recounts it in this fashion in the interview. Guest host Helen Mann asked David Landau about the two families he featured:
Tell me about the families. Were they hard to find in the first place?
Extremely hard. I will start with the Palestinian side. Palestinians normally will not collaborate and not participate in Israeli projects, especially on a national scale. It is the National Israeli Museum based in Jerusalem and I actually got to hear about this unique person that goes by the name Raji Sebteen. He was a Palestinian militant but he just had a 180 degree shift into non-violent resistance and so he really put the sword aside. He really was a rare case that for him he was not afraid to be part of the project and he was not also in any danger.
And what was the composition of his family?
He has 7 kids. His wife passed away. His story is pretty painful because his sister is paralyzed due to a shot by an Israeli sniper. He was in the First Intifada, arrested and was in jail for over a year. His brother was in jail for a longer period so that’s basically his setting. The other side, the Israeli family, wasn’t that easy as well because of an underlayer theme that I wanted to explore in this piece was the Israelis from Arab descendants.
Mr. Landau is recounting the story as he heard it from his subjects; that is clear from the context of the question and the retelling. It is not reasonable to have expected the host to jump in at this point to challenge the narrative on this or any other point about either side. The segment was not about the Intifada, nor about this particular incident which occurred nearly 30 years ago. The interview was about the exhibit, the artist’s reasons for doing it, and the impact and reaction is has been receiving. Context matters, and in this context it conforms to journalistic practice to recount the story from the artist’s view. The knowledge of who this family is - and who the source of the information is - allows the listener to make up his or her own mind about the information conveyed.
Ms. Shorten told you that the story was confirmed by the family to one of the programme’s producers, although they were unable to get confirmation from the IDF. Again, if that had been the focus of the story, then it might require other confirmation or attribution, but in this instance its inclusion is acceptable.